LAKELAND, Fla. (CN) – Commercial fishermen cannot sue a fertilizer company for polluting waters and sickening fish, because the fishermen do not own their catch, a Florida appeals court ruled.
Howard Curd and seven other fisherman filed suit against Mosaic Fertilizer for allegedly polluting Tampa Bay waters with its phosphogypsum storage facility. A facility pond holding waste from a phosphate plant spilled over in 2004, contaminating local waters, the lawsuit claims. Plaintiffs lamented the loss of “underwater plant life, fish, bait fish, crabs and other marine life,” which damaged local fishery reputations.
The appeals court ruled 2-1 that the fishermen could not recover for economic losses due to damage to property that they did not own. Plaintiffs’ claims for negligence and strict liability are barred by Florida’s economic loss rule, which Judge Altenbernd said serves this case by restating the common-law principle that negligence claims protect the safety of people or property. The plaintiffs did not claim bodily injury or ownership of the fish, and they cannot recover for indirect economic loss due to pollution, the ruling states.
The fishermen’s “expansive interpretation” would allow everyone from restaurant owners to beachfront businesses to claim damages due to unhealthy fish, the ruling states. Allowing recovery for fishermen alone would be difficult “without creating more problems than it solves,” Altenbernd wrote.